Batman Forever: The Retro FAQ

Batman, upon learning Dr. Chase Meridian has become horny for Bruce Wayne. Seriously,
Batman, upon learning Dr. Chase Meridian has become horny for Bruce Wayne. Seriously,
Screenshot: Warner Bros.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and things must be desperate here because I just watched Joel Schumacher’s first Batman movie, Batman Forever.

The follow-up to Tim Burton’s beloved Batman and Batman Returns was derided when it was released in 1995 as being too silly. However, recently, the even sillier sequel Batman & Robin has been reassessed as a movie so bad it’s good by fans who now have the capacity to accept corny superhero movies. But does Batman Forever deserve the same chance? I had to do a FAQ to investigate. [Editor’s Note: Ahem. Some of us always thought they were good.- Jill P.]


Well, does it deserve the same renaissance Batman & Robin is having?

No. Absolutely not.

Care to elaborate?

There are many, many reasons 1995's Batman Forever is hard to watch by young nerds who’d been delighted by Tim Burton’s first movies. For them, it was crushing disappointment that the first superhero movie franchise that wasn’t solely aimed at kids was devolving into the silliness of the campy ‘60s show. Now people are coming around on Schumacher’s Batman & Robin for that same reason, but Batman Forever is caught in between. It’s a natural evolutionary step from Burton to B&R, but it’s trying to be brooding and campy in the same movie, and those are canceling each other out. So Batman Forever is much less than the sum of its parts.

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That’s a longer, more thoughtful answer than I’d anticipated.

Also the jokes suck, the script sucks, the characters suck, and the performances suck.

(sighs) And that’s what I’d been expecting. Maybe we should just start from the top.

After the opening logo and cast graphics, it takes four seconds—literally, only four seconds—for Schumacher to give us a close-up of Batman’s (Val Kilmer) crotch while the dark knight is putting on his outfit.

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Screenshot: Warner Bros.

Then we get the reveal of the Batmobile, scored to most triumphant parts of Danny Elfman’s Batman theme, followed immediately by the first spoken lines of the movie:

Alfred: Can I persuade you to take a sandwich with you, sir?

Batman: I’ll get drive-thru.

And then, completely incongruously, the Elfman music blares up again as Kilmer’s Batman races out of the Batcave. The movie’s tone is completely erratic from its very first scene.

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We can’t go through the thing where you go scene by scene. Just give me some broad strokes.

Sure. Two-Face—played by an immensely scenery-chewing Tommy Lee Jones—wants to commit basic crimes like diamond robberies, but he’s obsessed with murdering Batman. In his goofiest attempt, he brings a bomb to the social event of the year (the opening of the Gotham Circus) and announces he’ll kill everybody if the person in the crowd who’s secretly Batman doesn’t fess up. How or why Two-Face thinks Batman is incognito in the circus’ audience of about 1,000 is unknown. The acrobat troupe, the Flying Graysons, get rid of Two-Face’s bomb, but Two-Face kills them all except Dick (Chris O’Donnell).

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Screenshot: Warner Bros.

I can never remember what Robin does in this movie.

Well, that’s because it’s not much. Dick becomes Bruce’s ward, Dick starts to leave, Bruce bribes him to stay with a rare motorcycle. Later, Dick finds the shockingly obvious entrance to the Batcave, takes the Batmobile for a joyride, and saves a girl from a gang that fights with giant glowsticks. Bruce grounds him, but later Dick ends up rescuing Batman from a death trap, which makes Bruce even angrier. Still, he relents and lets his new sidekick come with him to the final showdown with Two-Face and the Riddler (Jim Carrey, at the peak of his ‘90s-ness). His emotional journey begins with him wanting to kill Two-Face in revenge—something Batman is shockingly okay with—but eventually, he decides not to kill Two-Face, which ends up getting him locked in a death trap.

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What’s the Riddler’s deal?

That’s a complex question to answer, my friend, since he has two enormous deals: Edward Nygma’s supervillain plan and Jim Carrey’s performance.

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Illustration for article titled Batman Forever: The Retro FAQ
Screenshot: Warner Bros.

Let’s start with the plan.

Well, the plan starts with a device that Ed Nygma, a scientist who is inexplicably obsessed with Bruce Wayne, makes for Wayne Enterprises. It’s a box—the Box—which can beam TV directly into people’s minds. Nygma, played by Carrey as someone 100% bonkers well before he becomes the Riddler, gets a chance to pitch it to Bruce Wayne himself. Bruce passes on the idea since the device could also be used to take secrets from people’s minds. Nygma is instantly evil, he hates Bruce, joins forces Two-Face to steal money to mass-produce his device, which is an instant hit, and the villains learn the secrets of most people in Gotham. Reading all the thoughts of the millions of people inhabiting Gotham does not give them any power or information that furthers their goals in any way. It only comes in handy once.

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And Carrey’s performance?

Let me start by saying that both Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones are just doing a worse version of Jack Nicholson’s Joker at his most maniacal. Jones isn’t much worse, but it’s a pale photocopy of something we’ve already seen and enjoyed. Carrey is much more unbearable, because he’s half doing Nicholson’s Joker, and the other half is Ace Ventura and The Mask. He mugs at the camera, he screams for your attention, he shouts out terrible lines like “Joygasm!” “Surf’s up, Big Kahuna!” “Spank me!” It gets grating almost immediately, especially compared to Kilmer’s incredibly low-key performance as both Batman and Bruce Wayne.

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I can see an actor being low-key as Bruce Wayne because he doesn’t want to attract much attention. But Batman is basically a different character.

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Or he should be, but no one notified Kilmer. He plays Batman as if a truly soft-spoken, unflappable, uncharismatic Bruce Wayne put on a bat-suit and fought crime like it was his nine-to-five job. He does the work, and he wants to do it well, but this incarnation has no enthusiasm for it. Even when he remembers his parents getting murdered, or discovers a repressed memory of falling into a cave with a bat in it as a kid, inspiring his crimefighting persona, it feels like he’s only slightly more engaged than he is otherwise. Honestly? I believe Chris O’Donnell gives the best performance in this film.

Hey, wasn’t Nicole Kidman in this?

She was and is.

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Screenshot: Warner Bros.
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Why haven’t you mentioned her?

So sorry. Here’s everything you need to know about her character, Dr. Chase Meridian: She’s a psychoanalyst. She’s horny for Batman from the first minute she sees him. Her medical diagnosis of the Riddler is that he’s “a wacko.” Her “character arc” is that she stops being horny for Batman and gets horny for Bruce Wayne instead. She ends up in that death trap with Robin at the end.

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Well, that’s not great. Let’s just get back to the story.

Nygma, who’s only known as the beloved inventor of the Box at this point, has a party and reveals a new Box. This one shoots a beam that somehow puts holograms into people’s heads so they can imagine they’re on the beach…better, I guess? Anyway, Bruce wanders in to try and figure out it works, but surprise! It’s a trap! (Aside: Batman wanders directly into incredibly obvious traps multiple times in Forever. He almost always has means to escape them, but he falls for them repeatedly.) The villains’ molls—Sugar and Spice, played by Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar, respectively; it’s always disconcerting to see them in these tiny, thankless roles—turn on the machine and download Bruce’s darkest secrets. When Riddler watches it later, all that’s on it is a bat, just flapping its wings. And now both Riddler and Two-Face know Batman’s secret identity.

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So, uh…Bruce Wayne was just thinking about a bat?

Yes.

Like, do you mean a swarm of bats?

No. One bat. On a black background, so it’s just one bat, flapping its wings, but stuck in space.

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Screenshot: Warner Bros.

I don’t know how I feel about a Batman who’s constantly thinking about a bat and not, like, stopping a supervillain, his relationships in the Bat-family, potential new gadgets, his dead parents, etc.

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I know how I feel, and it’s not happy. Riddler and Two-Face pay a visit to Wayne Manor, the Riddler blows up most of the stuff in the Batcave while Two-Face shoots Bruce Wayne (non-fatally, for a dumb reason not worth getting into), the two steal Chase, and run off.

All Two-Face wanted to do this entire movie is kill Batman. You have to explain why he didn’t do it when he finally had the chance.

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Two-Face is about to but the Riddler stops him, telling the “bifurcated one” it’ll teach Batman some kind of lesson, which is not true and nothing Two-Face would be interested in anyway.

You’re right, that wasn’t worth it.

Anyway, Batman gets in a bat-plane and Robin gets in a bat-boat which are both easily destroyed by the Riddler and Two-Face via a weapon-rigged game of Battleship. It’s a terrible scene.

Batman and Robin are defeated by this extremely stupid assault, and both of them end up having to swim to shore. Luckily, it’s extremely easy to defeat the Riddler.

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How so?

Batman tosses a batarang into the giant, fragile doohickey hanging over the Riddler, which is beaming his Boxes’ information into his head, filling it with more and more information. The device is completed destroyed by a small metal object getting tossed on it, with the bonus result that somehow a beam comes out of nowhere and shoots Riddler, which somehow makes him so mentally unbalanced he somehow ends up believing he’s Batman. All with a single throw of a batarang.

Lucky throw.

No, it just sucks. Don’t try to be glib like the movie. I don’t need that right now. I just watched this movie.

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Sorry, you’re right. That does sound like a terrible resolution. But what about Two-Face? Does Robin kill him?

No, Batman does.

Wait. What the hell?

So Batman and Robin are dangling over a small chasm; Two-Face is above them, standing on a steel beam. Two-Face flips his trademark half-dollar coin into the air to see if he should kill the two. So Batman tosses about two dozen more half-dollars at him. Two-Face freaks out and starts trying to grab all the coins in an attempt to save his half-dollar, and very quickly falls off the beam to his death.

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Wow.

Batman knew Two-Face’s attachment to his coin, thanks to some psychoanalysis by Chase. Batman knew how Two-Face would react, and he knew that the chances of a panicked Two-Face falling to his death were incredibly high. That’s murder. Maybe one of Batman’s lawyers could say Batman just wanted to confuse Two-Face and the villain stepped off the beam of his own accord, but that still means Batman intentionally created a situation where Two-Face would likely kill himself. I’m no lawyer, but I think that’s murder by depraved indifference at the very least.

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Batman Forever bringing that BvS energy.

But at least Batman v Superman had a consistent tone. Batman Forever is a movie that ostensibly wants to look inside the tortured psyche of Batman but then uses a cartoon sound effect when the Joker grabs his nuts after throwing a bomb like a baseball pitcher.

The movie wants to be dark and brooding and funny and silly, but not only do these things cancel themselves out, Batman Forever is bad at all of them. It’s not a good movie.

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Can we wrap this up? I don’t want to hear any more about this bad movie.

Good. I don’t want to write any more about this bad movie. I’m the one who had to watch it, after all. There’s just one more thing.

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What?

This:

What the fu—

That’s all, folks!

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Rob Bricken was the Editor of io9 from 2016-18, the creator of the poorly named but fan-favorite news site Topless Robot, and now writes nerd stuff for many places, because it's all he's good at.

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DISCUSSION

I was 8 when Batman Returns came out and despite my pleas, my parents wouldn’t let me see it. Something about “Catwoman and Batman grind each other while The Penguin bites some dude’s nose off” was a major deal breaker.

I was 11 when Batman Forever came out, and since it was deemed far more family-friendly than its predecessor, I was actually allowed to see it in the theater. It was a really special movie for 11-year old me. Do I think it’s a great movie? No. Would I drop everything I’m doing, at any given moment, and watch the film in its entirety? Absolutely.